Wolverines again face tough tourney task vs. No. 1 Mount Union

Wesley football coach Mike Drass by .

“There’s no pressure on us,” said Wesley coach Mike Drass. “People aren’t looking at the Wesley-Mount Union game saying, ‘Well, it looks like Wesley has a real good shot this year.’ I kind of like that role for our kids.” (Delaware State News file photo)

ALLIANCE, Ohio — Mike Drass assumes nobody is giving his Wesley College football team a chance to win today.

And that’s fine with him.

Really, there is no logical reason to think that the No. 11 Wolverines (11-1) can get past top-ranked Mount Union (12-0) today at noon in Alliance, Ohio in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals.

Nobody beats the Purple Raiders in the early rounds of the playoffs (they’ve reached the national championship game 18 times since 1993). Nobody beats them at home (they’ve won 93 straight games in Mount Union Stadium).

And Wesley hasn’t found a way to get past them (the Wolverines are 0-4 against the Purple Raiders, all since 2009).

To Drass, though, that just means the Wolverines have nothing to lose.

“There’s no pressure on us,” said Drass. “People aren’t looking at the Wesley-Mount Union game saying, ‘Well, it looks like Wesley has a real good shot this year.’ I kind of like that role for our kids.

“They are the No. 1 team in the country. They look like the No. 1 team in the country. … You don’t look at them and see a lot of weaknesses there.”

Certainly, Wesley has to hope it can play like it did in its first three meetings with Mount Union, when it lost by 17, seven and three points, rather than the way it played last season when it fell by 49 in a 70-21 rout in the NCAA semifinals.

The Wolverines insist that last year’s thumping will have no bearing on today’s rematch.

“We’re a different team, they’re a different team,” said senior defensive tackle Brenton Barnes. “Coming into this game, it’s going to be a battle of two good teams going back and forth.”

Wesley has proven it can move the ball on the Purple Raiders at times.

In just two meetings with Mount Union, quarterback Joe Callahan has completed a remarkable 74-of-121 passes for 1,073 yards with nine touchdowns. But the Gagliardi Trophy finalist says, if things are going to change this year, he’s got to cut down on the eight interceptions he’s thrown in those two games.

Two of those pickoffs were returned for TDs.

“It just shows us as an offense what we can do and to never lose confidence,” said Callahan. “I guess no matter what the score is, as an offense, we feel like we can keep fighting back.”

The problem for the Wolverines is that this might be as good a Mount Union defense as the Wolverines have faced. The Purple Raiders lead Division III in both scoring defense (5.3 points) and total defense (159.5 yards).

They’ve allowed just 64 points all season while posting six shutouts.

In Wesley, Mount Union will be going up against the country’s top offense (602.4 yards), top passing offense (401.4 yards) and sixth-best scoring offense (47.8 points).

All that being said, the Wolverines’ best chance at staying in the game might come by trying to run the ball. Junior Jamar Baynard has rushed for 1,315 yards with 16 TDs this season.
Wesley needs to keep the ball away from Mount Union’s offense, which tops Division III at an average of 54.9 points.

The Wolverines know full well that nothing will come easily today. But they say they relish the challenge.

“I love it,” said senior safety Craig Pettit. “It’s always an honor to be in the top eight and play against a good team like that.”

“It’s something you definitely don’t forget and something that sticks with you for a while,” Callahan said about last year’s loss. “Luckily we get a chance to go back there and redeem ourselves.

“I think, as a team, we wanted to go back through Mount Union and to try to get to the ultimate goal — the Stagg Bowl. The way it turned out, we’re in their bracket and we’ll get that third chance now.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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